Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Identify the Cause of Brown Spots In Your Lawn


Brown spots in lawns are frustrating to deal with! Just when you think you’ve done everything right, suddenly there’s a patch of grass that’s dead or dying. There are a number of causes of brown spots in lawns, from insects to disease to human error.

To get to the bottom of the situation, you’ll have to do a little old-fashioned investigating. Here’s a checklist to help you determine the cause of brown spots in your yard.

Human and Animal Damage

Unfortunately, it’s very easy for us (and our pets) to damage lawns. Some common causes of brown spots include:

  • Dull Mower: Dull mower blades tear your grass, causing damage and gradual death to the grass.

    Remedy: Sharpen your blades in fall and spring. After mowing, examine your grass to see if the mower is cutting cleanly.

  • Scalping: If your mower blade is set too low or there are lumps in the lawn, it can cut the grass too short and cause damage.

    Remedy: Practice proper mowing techniques by raising your mower blades, and smooth out high spots by digging up the sod, removing some of the soil underneath, and replacing the sod.

  • Chemicals: Gasoline, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides can cause dead spots if spilled. If fertilizer is applied unevenly or incorrectly, it can burn the grass. Even insect repellents can burn your lawn when sprayed on the grass blades.

    Remedy: Pour chemicals, fuels, and sprays on your driveway, not on your lawn, and follow application directions.

  • Animal Urine: Dogs are the most common culprit, but large birds and other animals can cause urine spots, too. Urine usually causes your lawn to turn yellow in spots, sometimes with a bright green ring around the edges where the diluted nitrogen in the urine acts as a fertilizer.

    Remedy: Check out our article on How to Keep Dogs From Damaging Your Lawn for tips.

Take a sample of stems, roots, and soil for analysis.

Poor Growing Conditions

The conditions in your yard may be unfavorable for grass to grow:

  • Poor Soil: Soil quality can vary in your lawn, and poor soil can occur in patches, causing brown, bare areas or moss.

    Remedy: Take a screwdriver and push it into the soil. If it doesn’t go easily, your soil is likely compacted. Try aerating and top-dressing to incorporate organic matter in the soil. When you aerate, take a look at the plugs, to see how the quality and texture of your lawn varies in different spots. Keep this in mind as you amend and improve your soil.

  • Buried Debris: I once puzzled over a brown patch for weeks before finding an old piece of buried lumber under the grass.

    Remedy: While you’ve got that screwdriver handy, poke around a little to see if anything is underneath the sod.

  • Compacted soil.

  • Erosion: Water tends to run off slopes, taking grass seeds and young shoots with it, and leaving bare ground or dried out areas behind.

    Remedy: Aerate your lawn to increase water absorption. If the slope is steep, consider building terraces or planting groundcover.

  • Roots: Large trees or shrubs usually win the battle for water and nutrients. The area under trees is notoriously difficult for growing grass.

    Remedy: Consider mulching or naturalizing areas under trees and shrubs.

  • Drought: Lawns need one inch of water per week, either from rainfall or irrigation. Dry, compacted spots are more easily drought-damaged.

    Remedy: Keep an eye on dry, sunny spots, especially if your soil drains poorly. If you irrigate, make sure your entire lawn is watered evenly.

  • Dormancy: Cool-season lawns can go dormant during the heat of summer while warm-season lawns go dormant during the winter. If your lawn has a mix of grasses, you’ll have curious brown patches as some areas go dormant while others stay green.

    Remedy: Seasonal dormancy is normal, but make sure your lawn is healthy and strong to prevent unnecessary browning.

Brown spots caused by dormant Bermuda grass mixed with green fescue.

Common Lawn Diseases and Pests

If you’ve eliminated all the above causes, it’s time to move on to some of the more serious diseases and pests that plague lawn grasses. Some of the most common culprits are:

  • Thatch: Thatch is a buildup of decaying grass blades that can build up so thick that it chokes out healthy grass.

    Remedy: Remove thatch if it is more than ½” thick.

  • Grubs: Grubs are a common problem in mid to late summer, and most easily identified when your sod easily pulls back from the ground like a carpet.

    Remedy: Pull back a section of sod and inspect for fat, white curved worms. More than ten per square foot can cause lawn damage. Grub control products are available at your garden center.

  • Chinch bugs: Chinch bugs are a common summer pest in warm-season lawns, especially in hot sunny patches beside driveways and sidewalks.

    Remedy: Inspect your lawn closely, and look at your shoes as you walk through the grass – you should be able to spot the small black and white adults. They’re resistant to many pesticides, but there are products available to target them.

  • Other insects: Caterpillars and other pests can live part of their life cycle in lawns.

    Remedy: Watch your lawn closely – look for crawling and munching insects and for grass blades that look eaten. Also watch for birds and wasps feeding on these pests in your lawn.

  • Fungal Diseases: Brown patch and other fungal diseases thrive in moist conditions, most often in midsummer (when nights and days are hot and humid) and spring (as snow melts). They may show up as circular or irregular brown spots, or you may notice a spotting or infected pattern on the blades or a generally dying/thinning out.

    Remedy: Increase air circulation and sunlight as much as you can, to make your lawn less inviting to fungus. Note the size and shape of the damage as well as the frequency of watering, fertilizer, mowing habits, and sunlight in order to diagnose the disease correctly. Take a sample of the affected grass (blades, roots, and soil) to your local cooperative extension office for analysis.

Further Information

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30 Comments on “How to Identify the Cause of Brown Spots In Your Lawn”

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  1. Jessica Says:
    December 14th, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Sweet, thanks for the info. I had my sod installed by Evergreen Turf and was looking for general lawn-care tips so I can maintain my lawn myself.

  2. Randy Lauhoff Says:
    December 26th, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    use cornmeal to cure brownpatch

  3. Evelyn Says:
    April 25th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I bought a home the has St Augustine grass. The grass has brown patches. I was thinking of replacing those patches or is their something else I can do. And if I do replace the pacthes I would like to put fresh soil. Should I use black cow or what should I put down so the new patches wont die.


    Evelyn Baez

  4. BILL Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 8:46 pm


  5. David Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Water them daily for a week. Get some liquid nutrients and mix them with a steroid in a 55 gallon then spreed around the trees and bushes. It will stimulate the roots and plants will grow.

  6. Nabil Abdalla Says:
    March 30th, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    for years I get brown patches every fall and gradually gets green in the spring time, I planted a new grass and still doing the same thing. finally I used weed killer to kill the grass and its roots( roots are so thick and and spread every where) but still have the same problems and it spreads all over the yard gradually. what should I do?

  7. van Johnson Says:
    August 9th, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    large dead spots in lawn, I had them for years. If you live down south, the culprit is more than likely Mole Crickets, They will destroy a lawn in a short time, If not treated they will return year after year. Triazicide Insect Killer, made by Spectracide, from Home Depot will get rid of them. Also kills Fleas,Fireants, and most other lawn pests for entire season.

  8. Robert Delisle Says:
    May 21st, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    We have light green spots of grass in our grass. A lawn care place told us it was deer urine. It is getting worse.
    Can this be deer urine and if so how to stop them from urinating on our grass. Neighbors don’t seem to have so I thought it might not be deer urine as we were told

  9. don adkins Says:
    May 28th, 2014 at 8:39 am

    I have what they call spring kill in my yard.Several brown spots soil is tight,what can I do to get back my pretty lawn?

  10. Robert Delisle Says:
    May 28th, 2014 at 10:18 am

    You sent me postings on brown spots these are definitely not brown spots but real light green circle patches in my lawn. I have NO DOG. Could it be from deer urine??
    Thank you.

  11. Naier Says:
    June 18th, 2014 at 9:38 am

    We have new sod fescue grass almost a month , recently the grss get thin and later becom,brown patch. Many different spot. Our water irgration is correct , how do I pervent from this matter. Our gardener mentioned la k of water , I ve seen even the place has water has same problem.

  12. bruce grashel Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 9:30 am

    my brown patches look like small areas of brown blades of grass, like above ground thatch. have not used anything but milorganite and the spots showed up before I even used it. could it be a fungus? thanks

  13. Brenda Says:
    July 2nd, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    When I cut my grass using either of my 2 riding mowers, I get light spots that cause the grass to turn brownish yellow and then dies out. When I use my push mower this doesn’t happen. I checked to see if they are leaking gas, but didn’t find any evidence of it. What else could it be. Also is there a way to raise a riding mower that is too low even on its highest setting.

  14. Marina Says:
    July 26th, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I put Scotts Turf Builder on my lawn and now I have weeds and crab grass growing when I did not have to begin with and also brown spots appearing in circles. I used the Scotts spreader and made sure of the settings as per instructions. Also per instructions it staed can be used any time and willnot burn the grass. I am stumped

  15. Kathie Kellner Says:
    July 28th, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    My grass was looking great after applying the recommended fertilizer for my zip code (77356 – Montgomery, TX). I bought a new lawnmower and mowed my grass several times, but the grass grew so fast that it didn’t look like I’d mowed it two days later. Therefore, I lowered the blades on the lowest level – which was the dumbest mistake to make on a mulching lawnmower. I SCALPED my yard and subsequently the grass died. I applied Bayer fungicide for brown spots and water every morning until the past two weeks, when I water every other day. There are a few new blades of grass springing up, but my yard looks hideous. Any advice, such as reseeding, etc.? I resodded the dead areas in the yard a year ago and the new grass was looking terrific – until I scalped it. (the reason I had to resod is because I had to have a huge pine tree removed and the pine shavings must have been too acidic for the soil) HELP!

  16. Jesse Says:
    August 7th, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Triazicide Insect Killer, made by Spectracide, doesn’t work. I spray a bottle religiously every month 12 months a year. It says it works for 2 months – NOT! I have a dog and want to make sure there are no fleas or ticks & it works for that. I don’t have grubs, as far as the mower blades, changed service 4 months ago so if it’s dull blades I can’t do anything about it. I’ve resodded the sports, I’ve sprayed lawn disease Spectracide Immunox, my sprinklers are on every other day. I’m going to try the cornmeal I read from one of the comments and see and if that doesn’t work.

  17. Joe Duda Says:
    September 2nd, 2014 at 8:22 am

    I had my lawn aerated but did not have a section over seeded. The area that I did not over seed got brown. We have not had any rain for over a week so I began watering it and have not cut it yet. prior to aeration lawn was green and thick. Any suggestions?

  18. marshall buller Says:
    September 3rd, 2014 at 3:34 am

    I rototilled and reseeded the lawn a year ago exactly per the bags instructions. Used Scotts seed and it was more weed then lawn. As per instruction added the lawn food when the grass got to 3.5 inches. Fertilized it using Scott’s as per instruction shortly after. The grass was doing ok after I hand pulled every weed supplied in the seed for awhile. Then I bought a spray weed killer you attach to the hose when watering that claimed safe for grass. Well the lawn was somewhat nice for a few months but now it’s just dying off faster then I can fix it. If you go out and dig up a patch of grass and smell it I bet 90% of these probs are the same as mine is. It’s cat urine and you can smell it and it’s all over the place. Well home depot has a animal repellent for 15 bucks that lasts about a month or you can do what I did and go to the 99 cent store and buy a few dollars worth of Cayenne pepper and sprinkle the perimeter of your yard. It’s stops the cats safely and lets you have a little revenge on them at the same time. Quite a event watching a peppered cat.

  19. Scott Bales Says:
    May 1st, 2015 at 8:09 am

    planted sod last fall. did really well. this spring it came back strong, then we notices grass turning greyish in spots with the blades thinning then brown and dying. it is spreading to the entire yard. also having a mushroom problem. used some antifungal spread and only water in the morning.no improvement. we could sure use some help please

  20. Joan McName Says:
    May 22nd, 2015 at 8:17 am

    i have low spots in my yard that has always had good grass, but with all the rain we have been having, it is getting bad. it is getting slimy on the ground or soil and the grass is not looking good. would it be ok to put some good top soil on that and then put grass pads? please let me hear from someone. Thanks!

  21. allan gauthier Says:
    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    I bought 2000 square feet of Kentucky blue grass, laid it within 6 hours of receiving it. Rolled the top soil, laid the grass, then water it for 2 hours on Saturday 2 hours on Sunday and on Monday. Had half of each 2×5 rolls turn brown. Don’t know what happened?
    thanks for the advise,

  22. DJtheLawnDude Says:
    July 2nd, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Here are 10 free tips for the lawn. And mind you, I am NOT a pro, this all comes from my MANY years of trial/error/reading and learning on how to get MY own lawn (and some neighbors who hire me to maintain theirs) looking thick, green, lush and well, better than any MLB ballpark!

    Tip #1 – Mow your lawn short (at about only a 1-1/2″ to 2″ height) when it is cool outside (when temps will stay cool outside, say between 55f-68f)! But, you must remember, short lawns WILL get burned as it gets hotter outside and stays hot! That just means you should mow higher as the seasons get hotter! Simply mow your lawn higher (at about 2″ to 2-1/2″) when outdoor temps are steadily above 68f-75f! And mow it even higher when outdoor temps are even higher (3″ to 3-1/2″ when temps are above 80f or 90f), mow even higher when it will be hotter than 90f (4″-4-1/2″). Most GOOD mowers have easy to adjust “height adjustments” at each wheel, just raise your blade up by half inch, or even as much as one full inch as the seasons get hotter and you WILL be protecting your lawn and it’s roots, and your soil from getting “cooked”! Remember this!, grass NEEDS sun, water and some warmth, it doesn’t really need hot! Any full sun temps above 75f-80f for long periods are NOT very friendly and NOT a good thing for your lawn/roots/soil!

    Tip #2 – Do NOT de-thatch your lawn! ONLY de-thatch if your thatch layer is MORE than a half inch thick or so! And even then, only remove some of the layer! A thin thatch layer IS a good thing during the growing seasons as it IS protecting your soil and grass roots from heat and also feeds the lawn and soil as it breaks down! A thicker layer (about 1 inch) is also good for winter protection when your lawn is dormant, but make sure you thin it out when Spring comes again next year!

    Tip #3 – Do NOT Aerate your soil! That should only be done MAYBE once every 4 or 5 years, and only if you really hate your current lawn and you are planning to fully reseed your property! Aerating, as the name implies, allows more air into the soil which allows nutrients and moisture to be absorbed and dried up very quickly, which is NOT really a good thing! It can also allow root eating bugs and larva laying bugs to get under your lawn more easily! Also, NOT a good thing!

    Tip #4 – Have bare spots? Ditches? Divots? Than you should go buy a few bags of GOOD LAWN SOIL (NO!, NOT Top Soil!) Yeah, there IS a bit of a difference! Cover the bare spots, fill in divots and ditches and level your yard out simply with your own two hand and one good steel rake! But WAIT! Are those bare spots from animal urine or just can’t get anything to grow in that one lousy spot? If so, than, since you already have that big ol’ bag of Lawn Soil you just purchased, get a spade shovel and dig up some of the bare spot and discard, yep, remove that soil, than fill it in with the bag of good fresh soil you just bought! Hey!, It’s easier than trying to water the urine or whatever it is out of that one small spot of dirt that nothing was growing on! Why waste time with sad soil? Then drop some seed on that spot of new dirt and keep the spot watered for the next 14-21 days! POOF! That bare spot IS gone now ain’t it?! LOL

    Tip #5 – Do NOT use a bag on your mower if your clippings are short (1 inch or less), those clippings help feed and protect your lawn it’s roots and your soil, which IS a good thing! ONLY bag your mower if your lawn is very long/high or if it has tons of weeds, bagging a weedy yard helps to NOT spread the weeds!

    Tip #6 – Do NOT OVER water your lawn! ONE inch of watering only ONCE per week is enough when temps are below 75f-80f, twice per week is fine if your area is hotter than 80f! Over watering leads to rot, fungus, mushrooms and a place for bugs and their larva to live happily, among other issues you don’t want! Also, by watering less your training your grass to become more heat and drought tolerant and stronger!

    Tip #7 – Cool season grass seeds, as their naming implies, will only grow when it is cool outside, DUH! (Between, say, 55F-65F!) So if you seeded and it ain’t growing, it’s either too hot or maybe even too cold outside! DON’T WORRY THOUGH! If you seeded when it was too cold out, no problem, as it warms up outside the seed WILL eventually grow, and if it was too hot out, don’t worry, the seed is NOT ruined and your didn’t waste your money, it’s just dormant seed now and WILL emerge when temps drop back down in the fall! I have had each happen to myself many times due to temp fluctuations! I’ve gone and seeded, and than it either got too cool for a prolonged period, or it just got too damn hot out too quickly for it to emerge, but I waited and POW! up it grew (finally)! lol

    Tip #8 – In the northern states, early fall IS the BEST time for seeding and/or reseeding (and also the very best time for planting flowers/shrubs/bulbs/trees)! Yep, even BETTER than seeding (or planting) in the spring! Between Aug.28-Sept.28, and even as late as Oct.10 in some areas is the best time frame for seeding! And in the southern regions, between Oct. 12 to Nov. 20 works well!

    Tip #9 – Here’s another free hint as far as seeding goes, check your local ten-day weather forecasts to see what your areas temps will be over the next ten or so days and seed accordingly to the temps! Will it be lower than 70f for at least ten days or so, yet warmer than 55f? If so, than that IS the best time to get that seed down!

    Tip #10 – When to FEED a lawn! Well, there ARE a few times in the Early and Late Spring/Summer/Early and Late Fall that I find are great for putting down feed, weed-prventers/killers and bug preventers/killers! What works well for ME is when I apply feed just after the last frost in early Spring (about mid.-March in MY area) to my moistened lawn, it helps to get that lawn fed, spruced up and green again after winter. I apply a Scotts brand lawn food with Crabgrass preventative, making sure my lawn is all moist, than I wait about 48 hours and than water it in daily for the next 5 days. I’ve been doing that to my own lawn and have NOT seen crabgrass for 3 years now, after being over run with CG back in 2011 which took over my entire property and killed every inch of beautiful lawn that I had and had worked so hard for! Then I wait at least 8 to 10 more weeks for mid-spring (middle to end of May in MY area) and apply a second lawn food with an added weed killer in it (And I also add a Grub and bug killer to it since I had a huge Grub issue two summers ago) and get that down on the moistened lawn, again I wait 48 hours and than water it in daily for 5 days. I have not had any weeds, dandelion, nor Grubs in 3 years now. And the Feed/Weed Kill/Bug Kill CAN all work fine together! (Just as long as you DON’T have St. Augustine grass! St. Augustine and some weed killers do NOT work well together at all!) Then I wait another 8 weeks (about mid July) and get another feeding down onto the moistened lawn, I use one that has a different bug killer/repellant in it. Doing that helps keep the Japanese beetles away! No Jap Beetles=No Grubs! Then around mid-September I add a regular lawn food/turf builder to my moistened lawn, wait 48 hours and water in for 5 days. And then around early November I use a winterizing food for a final feeding til next Spring. Some might think I’m overdoing it on the feedings/weed preventers/killers/bug preventers/killers, believe me, I am not, I am just being diligent and the results ARE spectacular! In the last 4 years my yard has gone from a mix of weeds/bare spots/twenty different shades of green/CG damaged/Grub damaged eyesore embarrassing disaster to a thick, green carpet than anyone would be more than happy to lay down or roll around on all day long!

    Hope these (or at least SOME of these tips, and the two hours I’ve just spent typing all this stuff) can help YOU get the lawn you really want to see out your window and under your feet!!


    July 2nd, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Hi, I have Zoysia grass and live in Central Fl. I have a lawn care company and my lawn has slowly deteriated since their care and ignore the problems I am having. A couple of months ago I saw a deep purple spot in my lawn. I thought someone poured something on my lawn, and now it is all over my grass. It turns purple, turns brown looks bleached and dies and the grass is lower in those areas. They always say it is drought damage, but I know it is not. The areas that have always been beautiful are covered with these patches. Do you know what they are and how to fix the problem before I loose my lawn?
    Thanks, Sandra

  24. JohnP Says:
    July 11th, 2015 at 6:32 am

    Folks – when giving advice, please say WHERE you are located. Advice that makes sense for NJ probably doesn’t apply to AL or TX or NE.

  25. mark Says:
    July 26th, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Sandra,the purple spot is a fungus. Google purple fungus in lawns.

  26. John Says:
    August 7th, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Random brown spots varying in size are appearing in overall healthy grass. I’ve determined the spots appear when I idle with my riding mower for a minute or two on the spot. There is no gas leaking, could it be exhaust?

  27. Jim Says:
    August 23rd, 2015 at 10:12 am

    I planted Scotts East Seed and it came up great – green and plush. I water correctly – but we recently had 2 weeks of hot weather (Michigan), now the areas I planted are drown and appear dead. What are my options?

  28. Viva Raskin Says:
    September 8th, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    We live in Porter Ranch, California – San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles.

    We have an Olive Tree that is unfortunately dying – we believe due to a fungus when the gardener trimmed it.
    – A large patch of grass nearby the tree is dead, dying brown.
    – When the dead grass area is watered – numerous huge mushrooms grown.

    -We assume the mushrooms are due to decay underneath the dead grass.

    Can the roots of the dying Olive Tree that branch out under the dead grass be causing decay in the soil ?

    Help & what can we do ?

    Do we need to remove the dying olive tree & surrounding nearby roots ?

  29. anthony blauch Says:
    September 18th, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I spread grub killer in the spring now my lawn looks so terrible brown spots and areas that looks like animals were digging at it and my dog keeps sniffing in the ground. I like to get my lawn back to shape do you have any suggestions on what might be causing it and how can I get it back in shape for next year.
    Anthony Blauch

  30. Herb Britt Says:
    October 1st, 2015 at 11:13 am

    I have a Meyer Zoysia lawn that is in excellent condition, except for several dead spots 5-6″ in diameter that have just appeared in the past week or so. I live in the Atlanta, Ga. area. Could this be a problem with insects, grubs, or worms? Thank you!

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